Best Practices in School Communications
I was recently asked by a fellow parent/PTA Dad who was dismayed by the primitive modes of digital communication employed by their local public school. He complained about the poor quality of the school’s blog-based web site, which features almost no functional components nor means of engaging any of the stakeholder communities — i.e., students, parents, teachers, and administrators.
He was also asking for a calendaring, content distribution and communications platform designed for schools and that meets professional expectations for analogous tools/platforms in the corporate/commercial space?
This was right up my alley. Not only am I a PTA dad, but I’ve served on the PTA at every level except for national. I’m currently on the slate to be VP of Communications for California State PTA for the next two year term starting in July. I was also just re-elected to my second term on the Redondo Beach Unified School District Board of Education.
I tried to get this started back in 2007 when I built the first Web site for my daughter’s elementary school PTA (see the archived site). It had the ability to create and send email newsletters, a calendar, information pages, contact information, feeds, and more. The problem was that Joomla was too hard for the next person to maintain and they abandoned the site.
But there is hope. This is one of the areas that I would like to work on as part of my term on the California State PTA.
- Web: Right now PTA web sites might be supplied by the school, be a Wix site, Jooma, Wordpress, straight HTML, or whatever their host has for “custom” sites. I have seen literally hundreds of PTA Web sites and most are crap. A universal solution is really needed here. My thought is Wordpress, with a specific theme and set of predetermined plug-ins.
- EMail: For communications, most PTAs are getting to be pretty decent with email. We have been pushing them to use email service providers such as MailChimp and Constant Contact. There are issues with lists, removals, and such, but at least they have decent looking emails that get delivered.
- Social Media: Most PTAs are using Facebook. Some use it as one way announcements, others in lieu of a Web page, and others as a two way tool to engage the community. Twitter is hit and miss, as is Instagram, Pinterest, and others. I usually advise PTA units who do not use Twitter to use it like they would SMS communications. Only post important notices no more than a few times a week — and pre-schedule them all with a tool such as Hootsuite. Use Twitter for meeting notices(remind parents so they can plan drop off or dinner to make the meeting), to announce special events like Carnival, and to remind parents to send in permission slips for the field trip the next day.
That said, this sounds like an issue for the school, not the PTA if you want to be comprehensive and not cover just PTA events. School Loop is one such provider that my district uses for their Web sites and included mobile app (iOS or Android). You can review these sites for samples of different levels of sites powered by their service:
- RBUSD.org (School District)
- AltaVista.rbusd.org (used to be the Joomla site I craeted)
- ParrasMiddle.org (middle school)
- RedondoUnion.org (high school)
Our district also uses the Infinite Campus Web and Mobile Portal for parent access to grades, assignments, school calendar. It has a few other options like food services if your district chooses. We also have a subscription service that allow text blasts and robo-calls that are used for various purposes. Phone is usually for generic announcements, and text for emergencies.
You need to have a plan for when to use which service, or you get a mess. The high school principal might send out a robo call to all families of seniors to remind them about key dates for graduation, or all families to let them know of an upcoming program like our cyber safety or drug education for parent presentations. Another call would be combined with a text to parents of kids in a school affected by local police activity so that they know what is happening right away. We have a great CTO who has been wonderful at making sure we are moving the right direction and that there are procedures in place so everyone knows the right mode of communication for each situation.
I expect there are other similar services that do these same things, but these are the ones that I am familiar with. If you have a great service or success story, let me hear about it in the commennts.